Massachusetts has long been a leader in health reform, and oral health advocates have worked to ensure that oral health is a part of this important work. National health reform will be good for Massachusetts, because it will strengthen oral health in the Commonwealth.
Oral health is an essential part of overall health. Dental decay is caused by a bacterial infection in the mouth and is the most common chronic childhood disease. If left untreated, dental disease can impact other chronic health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, and can interfere with basic life activities, such as eating, speaking, learning and working.
Fortunately, dental disease is almost entirely preventable with regular access to preventive measures such as dental screenings, information about prevention, fluoride treatments, and appropriate referral to a dentist.
A number of important provisions in the President’s bill will improve oral health in Massachusetts:
- Expand Kid’s Coverage: The federal reform bill guarantees oral health care for children covered under the Health Benefits Exchange. In Massachusetts, the Connector (our “Exchange”) only covers adults up to 3 times the poverty level, while children get MassHealth benefits that include dental coverage. Under national reform, low-income families up to 4 times the poverty level will be able to use credits in the exchange, which will include family coverage. This provision makes certain that the coverage for children will include critical oral health care.
- Strengthen oral health workforce: The President’s bill includes significant provisions to expand training programs for dentists and fund demonstration grants for midlevel providers. Access to care is dependent on a sufficient investment in the oral health workforce and these provisions will be particularly important for Massachusetts.
- Prioritize oral health prevention: National health reform includes strong oral health care prevention activities, including a public education campaign, demonstration grants for dental caries management, school-based dental sealant programs, allowing school-based health centers to use funds for dental programs and authorizing CDC grants to improve oral health.
Without support from around the country, it is easy for Massachusetts to move backwards on this important issue. Dental benefits have been cut in the past when the Commonwealth has had to cut spending, and the Governor’s budget for FY11 proposes significant cuts to oral health, including the elimination of MassHealth dental benefits for adults. By strengthening the principle that the mouth is part of the body, we will also remind the decision makers here at home about the importance of oral health.